The seven-wicket triumph gives England six points with one group match left, against India at Edgbaston on Saturday. If they win that, qualification is guaranteed but, in any event, there would have to be some major surprises in the other remaining matches to prevent England progressing.
Success was never in doubt yesterday after Zimbabwe, boasting a record of five wins out of six in previous limited-overs matches against England, were made to look ordinary as England's bowlers restricted them to 167 for 8 in 50 overs. Stewart and the Zimbabwean-born Graeme Hick were early casualties as England's reply stuttered at 36 for 2 but Hussain (57 not out) and Thorpe (62) put on 123 before their partnership was broken, with the job all but done.
Alistair Campbell, the beaten captain, said afterwards that he felt the toss was decisive after Stewart had called right to maintain his 100 per cent record in the tournament. "If you look at what has happened so far it is a case of win the toss, win the game," Campbell said. "Certainly, it was not a good toss to lose today in these conditions with the ball nipping around.
"The way the pitch flattened out later on we would have needed 250 to have something to defend. We could have scrambled 190 but even that probably would not have been enough. But having said that they bowled really well, especially Alan Mullally. If David Lloyd were to say England murdered us this time, I would have to agree with him."
Naturally, Stewart, the England captain, insisted there was more to winning than simply guessing which side up the coin would land. "Even if you win the toss, you still have to put the ball in the right place," he said. "We won it against South Africa and lost. According to some things I have read, we were the underdogs today but we let our cricket do the talking and proved we were the better side. All you can do is win convincingly and we did that. We bowled well and fielded well and the performance from Alan Mullally was top-class."
The match ended with more chaotic scenes as spectators swarmed over the field, engulfing the players and fighting for possession of stumps. Both captains called for security to be tightened. "I think we need to get to the stage where people are not allowed on the field," Campbell said. "Maybe it needs fines or life bans or something to deter people from running on."